In last month’s article on three benefits and three pitfalls of web personalization in higher ed, we defined web personalization:
Web personalization results in the delivery of relevant and tailored content and navigation to meet the unique needs of specific individuals or audience segments based on their demographics, behaviors, and actions.
Part of the difficulty in getting started with web personalization is the mental model many of us have, based on experiences with Amazon, Netflix, and other e-commerce sites. We tend to jump straight into thinking about granular examples, such as being given suggestions for related products when viewing a pair of boots online.
Mapping this sort of example in higher education results in too much complexity from the start. It can be so overwhelming that it turns marketing pros away from exploring how to implement even the most basic types of personalization.
We’re here to say: It’s OK to start small and scale up.
Is your institution ready to tackle web personalization? Let’s explore three prerequisites, five planning steps, and two things to avoid.
Understand three prerequisites that indicate readiness to tackle personalization.
Prioritize the fundamentals — content management and measurement — and get them under control before you dive headfirst into web personalization.
There are five things you need to include in your planning to get on the path to personalization.
First, identify your potential segments of visitors. We recommend you start with prospective students; prioritizing your personalization efforts with your top website audience is the obvious way to get the most bang for your buck. You may choose to segment by international students, graduate students versus undergraduates, or prospective students interested in key academic programs. Consider starting with fewer than ten segments, and then choose one with the highest potential value.
Think about the conversions you want your selected segments to complete. For prospects: What are the steps leading from an anonymous prospect to an inquiry or request for information to a campus visit and then a completed application? You must be able to measure these conversions in order to gauge success. Tie them to specific actions you can track on your website. If you can’t clearly identify measurable steps, focus on a different segment to start with, or first improve the website transactions and measurement.
Select the tool you’ll use to implement personalization. This may be within your content management system, a third-party tool, or a custom development on your website. The tool will determine the types of personalization experiences that are easy to implement, so choose a tool that supports your strategy — not the other way around.
Craft personas for the segments of interest. It is not necessary to develop comprehensive personas for the entire website right away — remember, it is OK to start small. Focus on personas for your priority audience segments first. What is the story around this visitor that drives his or her motivation to take the desired next step?
Evaluate the types of personalization experiences available based on your content strategy and capabilities for creating content, as well as the conversions desired for the target audience. Keep things simple to start:
While the steps are straightforward, they should integrate with your content management process and content strategy for producing content.
Without a clear strategy, web personalization can become an endless labyrinth of possibilities without clear benefits.
Two key considerations that can help you avoid going down the rabbit hole:
If you’d like to learn more about personalization for higher education websites, check out our recent webinar Personalization on Higher Education Websites – The New Competitive Advantage, presented with our friends at TERMINALFOUR. We discuss planning, opportunities, challenges, and techniques for getting started with website personalization.
Greg Zguta Director of Web Development I've been working on education web projects since the late 90's and enjoy visiting campuses and watching how technology has transformed higher education since I got my first email account at Oberlin College in 1992. Back then, I mostly used the web to check weather radar and sports scores . . . I suppose technology hasn't transformed everything yet.